Locarno Film Festival director Marco Mueller announced on the final night of this year's edition (August 12) that he is stepping down, making him one of several European festival chiefs to quit their posts this year.

Mueller, who has held the post for nine years, said he will become a full-time producer at Benetton-owned Italian production company Fabrica Cinema.

Locarno's administration was rocked on the eve of the festival when president Giuseppe Buffi died suddenly of a heart attack after only three months in the job. According to Mueller, Buffi had ushered in a new climate at Locarno which this year was "the most balanced it's ever been."

Mueller was one of the key figures in founding the cinema production arm of the Tuscan art school, and has already produced several award-winning films at Fabrica Cinema, including 1999 Venice Silver Lion award winner Seventeen Years by Zhang Yimou, and Blackboards by Samira Makhmalbaf, which won the jury prize at Cannes this year. He is currently producing Fabrica Cinema's first Italian production, a sci-fi thriller entitled Oakland Is Not For Burning from debut director Gianfranco Rosi.

Earlier this year Berlin Film Festival chief Moritz De Hadeln was unceremoniously ousted from his position and San Sebastian director Diego Galan said he would quit at the beginning of 2001, signalling a changing of the guard in the management of Europe's top film festivals.